Victory Seed Company News

What's Happening Around the Farm as well as a Soapbox for Victory Seed Co. founder, Mike Dunton

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Quick Springtime Update

Although it is still cold and gray right now in these parts, the rain to sunshine balance is starting to tip in favor of sunshine.  Thus marks Spring in Oregon.

This also means that my personal office time to outdoors time balance is starting to shift.  We have already started mowing, getting equipment ready for tilling, and am watching the soil moisture for that first opportunity to start working it. Hopefully later this week. We started potting up tomato seedlings on Monday and then got a weather alert about the potential for temps down to 32F overnight.  These kind of events cause plans to be more dynamic that set in stone.  I got my old kerosene heater cleaned up, serviced and fueled up and before heading into the house for bed, lit it in the greenhouse.  The next morning, all of the transplants looked happy and enjoying the root space their new pots were providing.

Along with the typical spring tasks pertaining to actual farming activity, this time of year also marks the point on the calendar when major projects begin on the farm.  There is always some improvement or maintenance task that needs to be done around here.  This year I have an ambitious schedule planned.

As promised, this was just a quick update . . . more to follow . . .

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The Last Post of 2012 (Probably)

2012 is winding down and I wanted to get one last blog post up here to prove that I haven’t forgotten how.  I have no way of filling in all that has been going on around here since my last update.  The summary is that we have been busy getting ready for the upcoming gardening season and all of the little details that it entails.  I have been working on finishing up getting the “New for 2013” varieties listed on the site.  We still have odds and ends to finish cleaning, testing and getting them ready.

Boston Marrow seeds drying.

Boston Marrow seeds drying.

Here is a snapshot of my day . . . I got to bed at 3:00 a.m., up at 8:00 and out to the office by 8:30.  John got here at 9:00 and worked on finishing up getting seeds collected out of our ‘Boston Marrow‘ squash harvest.  They look good so assuming that once they are dried, cleaned and test good, they will be another new variety for this season.

In between the normal daily tasks that interrupt a good workflow, I worked on cleaning up our mailing list.  Man, I had forgotten how tedious that job is. :)   It has been a couple of years since we mailed out a catalog so it took much of the day to finish a first pass.

Other little odds and ends that I got crammed into the day . . . . read through four “new” seed catalogs from 1929 that came in the mail today.  They included a Berry Seed, Maule’s, Earl May, and a Gurney.  I also received a 1944 “Vaughan’s Gardening Illustrated” which was an interesting edition for a couple of reasons.  Firstly it is a WWII Victory Gardening edition and secondly it contains a full page company history / biography / obituary / for Leonard Holden Vaughan.  For a seed geek like me, great information.  I will eventually get the information shared at SaveSeeds.org.

Old seed catalogs are not simply a diversion.  They are serious tools for researching the histories and pedigrees of the old varieties that we work to preserve and as a byproduct, I get to learn about the histories of the old seed companies as well.  Now for a plug – If you ever run across old seed catalogs while cleaning, please don’t throw them out.  Keep us in mind.

Let’s see . . . what else happened?!?!  While working on book keeping tasks, I like to multitask.  Today I listened to a documentary called “Farmageddon.”  If you are interested in the survival of the “real food,” organic, local food movement, I would recommend taking the time to watch it.

After everyone left for the day, I went out to lock up the gate and noticed that some fence wires were down.  Thankfully it wasn’t raining so I went for a walk up the property line.  As Murphy’s law would have it, I had to walk nearly to the far end of the farm before I found the break.  Got it patched up, headed in for supper with the family, visited for a while and on the way back out to the office, stoked up the furnace and then stopped at the cabin to water everything in germ test.  It is now midnight and I still have to get my part of the order fulfillment process done so the crew won’t be held up in the morning.  If I have time, I have a bunch of donations to get ready to send out.  I am going to try and get to bed before 3:00.  A day in the life :)

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Ramblings on History, Traditions and Autumn Customs

If you have read other things that I have written over the years, you know that I have a tendency to reminisce (and ramble).  I am not the sort that dwells on or lives in the past, but I actively use memories and experiences, as well as lessons from general history, to better understand the present and help me to plan for the future.  I believe that this is a healthy behavior for people to practice.

Over the past couple of weeks while preparing the farm for the long winter months ahead, many of the tasks are so routine that I am allowed the luxury of performing them without much thinking and thus allowing my mind to wander. (I blogged about this topic a while back.)

Some of the Fall tasks on the farm include harvesting our seed crops, preparing the fields for a winter rest, pressing cider, hauling firewood to the cellar, picking up nuts, canning and drying food, turning off water to outside faucets, storing hoses and irrigation parts, cleaning out rain gutters, and a list too long to go into here.  While doing these things, I began to think about how I got to this point in life, how many times I have done this same Fall routine, and whether it now constitutes classification as a habit, a ritual, or a tradition?

Although Denise was raised on a farm and I had strong connections to my family’s, we didn’t get to start our life together on acreage.  Out of economic necessity, we first settled into a life in the suburbs and went to work acquiring knowledge, experience and some working capital.  Even though the “eat local” and “slow food” movements were still decades away, “health food” was common and organic gardening was a grassroots phenomenon.  We saw great value in raising as much of our own food as possible and began developing a “homesteader attitude”[1] when it came to choosing our personal lifestyle.

When we were able to buy our first house, we fell in love with a little “starter home” in a fairly new housing development in Petaluma, California (Petaluma is where we both grew up).  Although it was small on the inside, it had a large garage where I set up my workshop and it was built on a large lot on a quiet cul-de-sac.

We immediately began to “homestead” the yard by altering the landscape for optimal productivity.  We removed most of the lawn and replaced it with low maintenance beds and areas where we could establish vegetable gardens. We planted fruit trees, berries, artichoke, grapes, hops and various perennial plants served double-duty as ornamentals and edibles.

Planting our 1986 Suburban Garden

A photo of a much younger, and slightly thinner, "yours truly" getting an early start on our 1986 garden in the 'burbs.

Like so many other developments in the area, the land underneath ours was once dairy pasture.  Its dark, adobe soil was rich but difficult to work.  It was heavy and dense, sticky when wet and hard as concrete when dry.  Once amended with (literally) tons of composted mushroom mulch, it grew just about anything we wanted to experiment with.  This great soil paired with Petaluma’s awesome climate made for the best location that I have ever had the pleasure to garden.  It is no wonder that 100 years prior, Luther Burbank chose this region to establish his horticultural career.

Although our “farm” in Petaluma was only a quarter-acre city lot, the skills that we learned prepared us for purchasing my family’s farm in Oregon, without hesitation, when the opportunity arose in the late 1980s.  The seed for what eventually grew into the Victory Seed Company was sown in Petaluma.

This brings me back to the present day and to my contemplation at the beginning of this blog post.  Humankind’s survival has always been dependent on how well we made our plans during the winter months, how those plans were implemented in the spring, how hard we worked in the summer and how much bounty was harvested and stored away in the fall.

As the fourth generation to work the land on this farm, I often find myself wondering, “What would Great-grandpa think about me doing this?” or “What would Grandma think about us doing that?”  I feel a profound connection to my ancestors and I understand that everything that I do is simply building upon the foundation that they quite literally laid.  I trust that my descendants will someday share this experience.

So whether these seasonal behaviors that we practice have been learned from books or the internet or videos or our ancestors, they are routines that are more than habits and more significant than going through the motions of empty rituals.  They are in fact traditions by the purest definition of the word.



1.
   One of my favorite books was given to me by my Dad back in 1973.  It is called, “Homesteaders Handbook” and was written by Rich Israel and Reny Slay (©1973).  It, along with the Foxfire book series and Bradford Angier’s, “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants” (©1974), was the core of my childhood homesteading or self-reliance reference library.

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Quick Update

We have been working really hard this past couple of weeks wrapping up harvest, cleaning up the gardens and fields, and working at building compost piles and getting growing areas put to bed for the winter.  Everything that had to be immediately processed (melons, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) are pretty much done whereas things that could be harvested and stored (beans, peas, squash, etc.) are safely indoors and awaiting processing.  We will get to those tasks on rainy days (which sound like they will begin tomorrow).

Yields on peppers and tomatoes were on average lower for us this season than I like to see.  It was just one of those years.  A few “new” old varieties that I was hoping to introduce to you all this next season probably won’t be available.  But we will have enough seed to grow out larger plantings next summer and if all goes well, offer for the 2014 season.

Not a lot else to report here.  We are ants working at preparing for a long, wet Oregon winter.  But at this moment, the sun is shining, and I just popped into the office to grab the tractor key . . . heading back out to till the gardens and sow some cover crops.

More later.  ~Mike

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